Changes in protocol during demonstrations ordered after ACLU of Missouri lawsuit

ST. LOUIS -- Today, a federal judge ruled the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department must immediately adopt protocols to protect the constitutional rights of those observing, recording or participating in protest activity.

“This court decision is a win for the people of St. Louis and for the First Amendment,” said Tony Rothert, legal director, ACLU of Missouri. “By requiring police to adopt these common-sense solutions, we can protect rights of the people to express their concerns about the troubling racial disparities in policing.”

Today’s decision follows nearly three days of testimony and arguments in a motion for a preliminary injunction that the ACLU filed in October. 

Judge Catherine D. Perry’s ruling requires the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to immediately adopt several new protocol changes during protests.

The city of St. Louis must not:

  • Declare an “unlawful assembly” unless there is an imminent threat of violence.
  • Declare an “unlawful assembly” for the purpose of punishing people for exercising their constitutional rights to engage in expressing their First Amendment rights.
  • Use chemical agents against anyone nonviolently expressing their First Amendment right to protest in the city of St. Louis, in the absence of probable cause to make an arrest.  The city must also issue clear and unambiguous warnings that the person is subject to arrest and such chemical agents will be used.
  • Use or threaten to use chemical agents as punishment against anyone nonviolently expressing their First Amendment rights in the city of St. Louis.
  • Issue orders or use chemical agents, whatever the method of deployment, for the purpose of dispersing people in nonviolently expressing their First Amendment right to protest, without issuing loud and clear orders to let people know that dispersal is required, and what the consequences of failing to disperse are including, where applicable, that chemical agents will be used.

“Plaintiffs’ evidence — both video and testimony – shows that officers have exercised their discretion in an arbitrary and retaliatory fashion to punish protesters for voicing criticism of police or recording police conduct,” Perry wrote in the decision.

Today’s decision is part of a lawsuit the ACLU filed on Sept. 22 for police misconduct against people during the Stockley verdict demonstrations. The trial date for the lawsuit has not been scheduled.

“If St. Louis is to address its long-standing racial inequities, the community must be able to safely express its outrage and pain through nonviolent freedom of speech,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director, ACLU of Missouri. “We must use this as an opportunity to develop a collaborative approach to policing between the community and law enforcement.”

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